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What Princess Diana’s Thoughtful Thank-You Letters Can Teach Us About Humility and Gratitude

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It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to give thanks to those who make life a little easier. Because our loved ones are deserving of some heartfelt thanks every now and then, we should all take a page from Princess Diana’s book. Despite receiving thousands of written congratulations and hundreds of wedding gifts after she walked down the aisle, Princess Diana made a point of expressing her gratitude to as many people as possible. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a young person who has actually put pen to paper instead of sending off a text. But we think it’s time to bring back the old-fashioned thank-you letter; it’ll do a lot more good than you might think. 

After Prince Charles and Princess Diana tied the knot in 1981, the new royal “sat down to answer many of the 47,000 letters of congratulation and 10,000 gifts which the wedding generated,” her royal biographer Andrew Morton revealed in his book Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words ($9.35, Amazon). It’s truly amazing that the princess was even able to find time in her busy schedule to do this, even with the help of extra staff.

princess diana letters getty

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

We’ll never know if Princess Diana knew how much her thanks meant, but current research shows that thank-you letters are more significant than you might think. In a 2018 study published in the journal Psychological Science, participants were asked to write gratitude letters and predict how the recipient of the note would feel after receiving it. “Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.” That last bit is the most important, because it means that a thank-you note we send without much thought actually means the world to the person receiving it.

OK, so thank-yous are important — we knew that. But is it good enough to just say thanks in a text or email? If you want to make an impression, you should really send a letter, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. “It’s a special touch,” she told HuffPost. “It’s going above and beyond what is generally expected and anticipated because it means that you’ve taken some extra steps.” And don’t be discouraged about sending a thank-you letter late: It will still be appreciated, says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Poised for Success ($15.89, Amazon). 

If there was just one character trait that Princess Diana exemplified, it was humility. She was always willing to thank those around her, no matter how small the favor. That sense of gratitude sometimes feels like it’s missing these days, and we think the best way to bring that back is to start small and just say thanks. 

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